The idea of a "social networking phone" seems redundant at first--don't all phones have an ability to connect to a social network of some kind? But INQ Mobile, a company based in the U.K., claims that it is the first to really bring social networks in the form of Facebook, MySpace, et al. to those of us who prefer to have regular, affordable phones. INQ's argument is that most handsets with dedicated Facebook and Skype applications have so far been of the smartphone variety, and thus out of touch with the mainstream. But with the INQ1, as it's called, these social networking applications are now available in a simple and affordable phone.
Indeed, as we played around with a sample model at a CES press event yesterday, we could go directly to Facebook with a single push of a button from the device's home screen. Facebook and other similar applications are laid out along the bottom row of the home screen, allowing for simple and direct access. The INQ1 comes with Facebook, Skype, Yahoo, Google, eBay, and Windows Messenger built-in, but since it also supports Java and BREW, you're able to add other applications like MySpace. The phone's contacts list is closely integrated with these applications, allowing you to see the online presence of all your contacts directly from the address book. For example, as you scroll down your contacts list, you can see the person's Facebook online status, Skype availability, and IM status. And then you can just choose whichever way you wish to contact him or her.
The hardware itself is decent, but nothing out of the ordinary. It has a nice display and a slider form factor. It also has a 3.2-megapixel camera, and once you take a picture, you can immediately upload it to Facebook, MySpace, or any site you want. The INQ1 also has a music player, which you can then connect to last.fm right out of the box, allowing you listen to your favorite streaming music. Of course it also has stereo Bluetooth, text messaging, and a speakerphone.
You are prompted to enter your login and password the first time you use the device, but from then on you'll always be connected. We asked the INQ rep about security concerns, and he said that the phone does prompt you to enter the password every once in awhile. That said, the surest way to prevent a security breach in case your phone is stolen is to just change the password on the Web site.
So the big question is: is it affordable? INQ said that for now, the handset will go for 79 pounds, and right now the handset is only available in the U.K. and Australia. The company is shopping around for U.S. providers at the moment, and hopes to expand its partnership to other European carriers this year as well. We're not too sure how this will sell in the U.S., but perhaps its simplicity and ease of use will appeal to some.